Last year, New York City introduced LinkNYC, its innovative plan to turn the city’s ailing payphone infrastructure into a network of 10,000 gigabit Wi-Fi hotspots. Google just bought into the key players behind the plan, and hopes to help scale the model to more cities.
OK, brace yourself, you’re about to hear a lot of company names, but I promise I will explain everything so that it makes sense. Google recently launched an urban technology incubator called Sidewalk Labs. That company bought two companies behind the LinkNYC plan, Titan and Control Group. Those two companies will now be united into one company, called Intersection. To recap, Sidewalk Labs (Google) along with some other companies, just acquired Intersection (Control Group and Titan), which is behind the New York Wi-Fi hotspots. Got it?
The LinkNYC project will continue exactly as planned: There are supposed to be 500 hotspots installed by the end of this year, and 4000 by the end of 2016. The grand total will be up to 10,000 total hotspots in the five boroughs. Outwardly, neither Sidewalk Labs nor Intersection has stated their intentions to start any new projects together, but the goal is to try to scale the LinkNYC model to other cities. That could mean a number of things. Most obviously it could mean Wi-Fi hotspot networks in more cities.
In a lot of ways LinkNYC in particular dovetails nicely with Google’s ambitions. It’s primarily an advertising business, and we all know that’s how Google makes it’s money by selling ads. It also works nicely as a complement to infrastructure projects like Google Fiber and more recently, Goolg’e Project Fi wireless carrier. Of course, once again, you should always be concerned about Google’s pervasive creep into every aspect of our communications infrastructure. This is also a data-mining company.
More than than just Wi-Fi hotspots, though, you might see these companies’ technology in more and more public spaces. You’ll recall Control Group’s last project, the impressive NYC digital subway kiosks. Prior to becoming Intersection, Control Group also deployed iPads in the redesigned Delta terminal at LaGuardia Airport, making it the sole tolerable location in that transportation hellhole.
In that In particular, I’m interested to see what happens to the Control Group side of the business. That company’s ambitious projects have always been impressive, and you have to respect its capability for getting things done with byzantine bureaucracies like New York’s MTA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Still, for all the promise, neither the kiosks in the subways nor the iPads at LaGuardia have panned out to be as transformative as the pitch. The former, in particular, is so far most effective as a giant digital billboard. (That doesn’t mean they won’t get better over time; the project is still new.)
This good news? Wi-Fi Hotspots might be coming soon to a city near you.
Corrected: This post originally stated that Google Sidewalk Labs acquired Intersection. It’s actually a minority stakeholder, and thus the ambitions of Intersection as a whole shouldn’t be attributed to Google, though it’s clear Google is gonna be involved. The post has been updated.